From the initial click of buckling up our newborn on that first ride home until we eventually hand that baby the keys to drive the car, we as parents only want to keep our kids safe as passengers.
The leading cause of death for Louisiana children is motor vehicle crashes, and the proper use of child safety seats and seat belts can reduce that risk. This summer, state legislators unanimously passed changes to child car seat requirements to keep children safer and ultimately reduce the number of deaths. The new law went into effect August 1.
Breaking Down the New Law
The regulations keep children from moving to the next level of less-protective restraint too soon. “The whole intent of the law is not to rush the transition of the child into that next level of restraint,” says Lisa Freeman, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission. “The law requires keeping the child in the more protective category.”
Babies and toddlers must ride rear-facing until they are at least two years old, and the progression to forward-facing internal harness seats, high-back boosters, booster seats and only using the adult seat belt is based on age, height, weight, development and seat manufacturers’ guidelines. Regardless of height or weight, passengers must ride in the back seat until they turn 13.
To see if your child is ready to switch, complete the five-step safety test: Knees bend comfortably at the edge of the seat with feet flat on the floor, bottom is all the way back, lap belt lies low on the hips at the top of the thighs, the shoulder belt crosses on the collar bone, and the child can stay seated like throughout the entire car ride.
The new state law is based on best practices that were released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in August 2018, and Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the law in June 2019. “In less than a year, Louisiana was the first state to embrace all of the recommendations of what were best practices,” Freeman says. “We are being hailed by national child safety experts as having the best law in the country.”
The hope is to help save young lives. “Louisiana children are our best assets. Our rivers and streams and Cajun cuisine, all that’s great, but it’s our children who are our most prized asset,” Freeman says.
Convincing Kid Passengers
Baton Rouge mom Jill Walker says her children will ride rear-facing until they’re four. “The law for me just reinforced something I’m very passionate about and was a step forward in progress for car seat safety,” she says. Walker says it gives her a stronger argument with her six year old who wants to switch to a booster before outgrowing his current seat.
“It’s no longer going to be that you’re the only one with a big kid in the booster,” says Amy Waters, child passenger safety technician with Baton Rouge Car Seat Safety, LLC. “You have the law behind you saying this is why I do this. Not only the booster but really the back seat law.”
Freeman notes that children’s developing bodies are much more vulnerable than adults’, and in the event of a crash, the back seat is the safest place for any passenger.
Freeman expects that caregivers will want to comply with the new law. “People in my profession, they would much rather go the route of deterrence,” she says. “It’s not anybody’s intention to cite caregivers for violations, just compliance.”
Waters says she hopes the new law will lead to training school staff who run carpool, not to police families or enforce the law, but to help get the word out by only opening back doors for children under 13. Freeman says, “We have been contacted by some schools to make sure they understood the requirements so they can then share what the law is.”
Car Seat Use and Installation
The state highway safety commission estimates that all babies under one in the Baton Rouge region ride in car seats, but the use rate drops off as children grow. Freeman says up to 96 percent of car seats are improperly installed.
“You can have the most high-end car seat available, but if that high-end car seat isn’t installed properly, it’s not going to do its job.” ■
Car Seat Safety Resources
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2019 Louisiana Child Passenger Safety Law
|Birth to at least two years old||Ride rear facing in an infant or convertible child safety seat|
|At least two years old and has outgrown the rear-facing seat by height or weight||Ride in a forward-facing child safety seat with an internal harness|
|Four years old and has outgrown the forward-facing, internal harness system by height or weight||Ride restrained in a belt positioning child booster seat|
|Nine years old or has outgrown the booster seat and can pass the five-step test||Ride restrained with a lap shoulder belt secured correctly on the vehicle seat|
|Younger than 13 years old||Ride in the rear seat of a vehicle when available and properly restrained|